Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London (*****)
I reckon this should be on a drip-feed so flamenco aficionados can get a daily fix of the artistry, beauty and passion that is Paco Peña and his company of dancers, singers and guitarists.
Peña, 75, is a marvel of longevity and creative consistency. Still developing, still evolving the art form that has been his life’s work, he’s the Merce Cunningham of flamenco. Dapper, compact with a touch of the Robert Helpmann’s about him – the mercurial Ozzie dancer-choreographer- Peña sits quietly at the back controlling, co-ordinating whilst his dancers and fellow guitarists and singers work up a storm of fireworks beside and in front of him.
And what a collection of talents he’s assembled for Flamencura, a show originally shown at Sadler’s Wells two years ago after its opening in Perth, Australia in 2014. In Flamencura, Peña has gone back to basics, the roots of flamenco from its Andalusian beginnings but developed now to an extraordinary level of complexity and nuanced artistry with numbers drawn from other parts of Spain.
In all musical cultures it seems, there is an essential conversation enacted: call and response. You can hear it in the music of Ravi Shankar, in jazz and its improvisations. So it is in flamenco, those thundering, clacking foot rhythms responding to a singer’s arching voice, guitar and percussion, only for the dancer to once again take up the challenge, expand and express.
Flamenco is all about the art of `expressing’, an emotional narrative full of the yearnings of a people and their suffering. And in the three dancers Peña has assembled – Angel Muñoz, Charo Espino and Yolanda Osuna – he has three outstanding exponents, independent dancers in their own right, each the owner of a flashing charisma and heart-stopping skill.
Espino, tall, blonde with a body that arches into a snake-like `S’ complements the fiery, dark-haired haughty grandeur of Osuna. Together with Muñoz, Osuna creates a haunting duet of Death. In the second half, Osuna in quieter mode, twirls an embroidered shawl as if in echo of Spain’s other, more brutal distillation of speed and artistry, the toreador.
Marvelling at the sinuosity, the speed and the depth of emotion resident in every moment, Espino can stop in a heart-beat, before breaking into the subtlest of humorous, sexy shifts of the shoulder before Muñoz brings the audience to its feet with a solo that seems to go on for ever, now lightening speed, now pausing, now electrifying.
And all the time, singers Immaculada Rivero and Jose Angel Carmona are summoning, pouring out passion, and like Peña and the musicians, never taking their eyes off the dancers. Such complete attention, such rapport, such ensemble inter-action.
And just to show its communality with other cultures, Peña this time also introduces the marvellous British born blues singer, Vimala Rowe, who duals with Carmona, he singing in Spanish, she setting up a ululating `let us breathe’, a song of freedom drawn from African-American blues and as if new minted from the streets of USA today.
Expressing sorrow and pain in the only way possible, through voices and feet, Flamencura reaches the highest levels of Art but also crosses the divide by reaching deep into our souls. In the end, we all become part of Peña ‘s family.
A marvellous constellation of skills, its attention to detail in every department, from its staging – simple spotlights fading into deepest blues – to its nonchalant exits, gives the whole evening an extra dramatic, seamless drive. Jude Kelly, a regular Peña associate, is credited this time as `Artistic Consultant’. It would be interesting to know what added `shape’ she gave to it.
Flamencura ran at Sadler’s Wells Theatre from Aug 8-12, 2017
This performance seen Aug 12, 2017
Review published on this site, Aug 14, 2017
Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company
Jose Angel Carmona
Devised by Paco Peña
Artistic Consultant: Jude Kelly
Musical Concept: Paco Peña
Original Music: Paco Peña, Rafael Montilla, Paco Arriga
Assisted by: José Angel Carmona
Ensemble choreography: Fernando Romero
Additional choreography: Angel Muñoz, Charo Espino, Yolanda Osuna
Costumes: Linda Rowell, Elvira Peña, Leila Ransley, Nina Caie
Lighting Design: Tom Wickens
Sound: Carlos Sánchez
Lighting Operator: Tom Wickens
Technical Manager: Elena Peña
Production Manager: Elvira Peña
General Management: MPM London
Paco Peña uses D’Addario Pro-Arte strings on all his instruments
Guitars made by Gerundino, in Almería and by Hermanos Peña, in Córdoba
World premiere of Flamencura at Perth Concert Hall, Australia, April 2, 2014.